Thursday, July 09, 2009

Where Angels Fear to Tread

Nonsense word exercise: grumelisk

At the crossing of Andromeda Avenue and Lakshmi Lane there stands a very grimy statue of Confucius, his features obscured almost beyond recognition by the incorrigible smog of the lower levels of Paradise.

If your vision of heaven is filled with graceful arches and naked cherubs and voluptuous apsaras, then let me tell you, you’d have to be the bloody Prince of Eden himself to get them. For the rest, especially here in the lower levels, Heaven is just another shanty-town. Everything is caked in sooty squalor because of the filth percolating down from the upper levels. Shabby and derelict apartment buildings lean on each other’s shoulders, spilling onto the narrow, dimly lit, cobbled streets. Welcome to the divine tragedy.

But I digress. I doffed my halo to the grimy sage before me and ambled down Lakshmi Lane until I came upon the Café Manichaean. It lives up to its name by seeming to be in eternal struggle with itself to bring some kind of uniformity to the décor. Mismatched chairs stand huddled around dirt-encrusted antediluvian tables. Each wall of the tiny cafe had several layers of peeling wallpaper on them, each a different design. I swear, even the waitors wore mismatched uniforms.

I perused the menu, holding it with my fingernails for fear of infection and thought it safe to order an apple cider. I had hardly handed back the menu when I saw Terziel enter the shop. “A small coffee,” he said to waiter without prelude. Noting down the order, the genie disapparated into the kitchen below, perhaps in a hurry to get away from Terziel’s singularly ugly face, which no amount of ambrosia can cure.

“Do you have the grumelisk I wanted?” he asked once he was sure no one was eavesdropping.

“Certainly. But explain to me exactly how you intend to kill GOD,” I replied.

“How I intend to kill GOD?” he repeated. “It’s really very simple. But first, do you know what grumelisk is?”

“Of course,” said I. Fuck you, I thought. How dare he insult me like this! As if there was a single apparition in heaven that did not know. It is, in a word, the quintessence of one’s soul. In effect, it is used as a raw material to power the divine city’s generators. Every new soul that manages to reach heaven has to pay a ‘grumelisk levy’ of one-fifth of one’s soul in exchange for a visa into Paradise. This collected soul is decomposed in special vats into grumelisk before entering the city’s power grid. The tax has been rising steeply for the past few centuries from a mere two percent in my time, more than five hundred years ago.

The waiter deposited our orders on the table and floated away again. Terziel wrinkled up his nose at the smell of alcohol in my cider. Fuck you, I thought again. Paradise was a better place without the likes of you!

Ah, heaven had been a very different city in the day. It was only seven levels high when I first arrived here. But the great spurt in human population following the Industrial revolution has led the city into a state of gargantuan overpopulation. The city has grown into a massive eighty-two levels high, with each new level that is added filthier, and more crowded, and more dangerous than the one above.

And correspondingly GOD’s powers have grown. Gaian Operations Division, as it was once called, controls grumelisk production, which means GOD controls energy, which means GOD controls the city. GOD’s energy monopoly has allowed its insidious growth into a Byzantine monstrosity that uses new souls pretty much as walking-talking grumelisk production units. GOD has introduced twenty new forms, to be filled in by immigrants seeking to enter heaven, in the last century alone, charging 1% soul for each. By the time new immigrants arrive at the Pearly Gates for the grumelisk levy of 20%, they may not 20% to give. I have heard of many souls who have simply disintegrate onto the floor just then and there. GOD doesn’t care.

Gaian Operations Division is our only interface with the mortal realm. Once a benign and innocuous agency, it has grown into a draconian and dictatorial bureaucracy which controls every aspect of our lives. Even Archangel Michael, the duly elected President of Heaven, does not dare to oppose GOD publicly. They maintain a vicious shadow government which monitor’s people’s lives without their knowledge. If a prominent angel disappears mysteriously, we all know he’s been fed to the city generators by an agent of GOD for publicly denouncing them.

Terziel took a sip of his coffee and said, “Well I shall use the grumelisk against GOD. Ironic, don’t you think? I have recently perfected a device that runs on grumelisk … an explosive device which can destroy every soul in the radius of one kilometer. The device is strapped onto my chest. I need only push a button, and…boom! Penetrating the facility will be cherub’s play with the gate-pass you have provided me. You have very influential backers.”

“You can be damn sure I do,” I said, keeping my voice barely above a whisper. I did not intend to meet my end as raw material for powering heaven’s anti-gravity engines. Not when I’ve come this far.

Terziel was exactly the thing I had hoped for: hysteric, malicious and stubborn. You could say he was fulfilling his destiny. You see, Terziel had been a terrorist in his before-life. A suicide bomber, to be precise. In fact, he was one of the last terrorists to get into paradise before the 723rd Mount Kailash Conference back in `82, which banned people with a history of violence from entering heaven.

Terziel never had a chance. Public opinion being the way it is, the stigma of terrorism hung over him like an ominous cloud. Nobody wanted to hire him. His last steady job had been as a garbage collector in Valhalla New Town. That had been seven months ago. He had lived his entire afterlife as a dreg in the lower levels, and he could take no more. He focused his anger against GOD. GOD had stopped others like him from entering. GOD bled him dry of grumelisk every chance they got. GOD had never explained to him that the phrase “seventy-two virgins” isn’t gender-specific.

“But won’t you perish in the blast as well?” I asked, feigning concern as I had a sip of my cider.

“A small price to pay,” he replied. “Trust me, I’ve done this before.”

“Excellent,” I said, as I indicated to the suitcase sitting at my feet. “The grumelisk as per your specifications, in concentrated vials.”

“Your master must be a powerful man, to acquire this much grumelisk in such a short time,” he answered.

I thought to myself, You have no idea.

At last, GOD shall fall! Years of planning are finally to bear fruit! Luckily, their facilities stand well on the outskirts of the divine city. The annihilation of a few thousand new immigrants as collateral damage was well-justified.

“It happens tomorrow,” Terziel said, as he got up to leave.

“Godspeed,” I said without thinking. With a withering look, Terziel was gone, his coffee unfinished. If all went according to plan, I would not be meeting him again.

I gave a sigh and reflected upon my inner demons, for you see I have many. In fact I always keep one tucked inside my left nostril in case I need to send a message across quickly.

“Take a message,” I commanded, as it hovered obediently at nose level.

My Lord President Michael,

Our plans are going perfectly. GOD shall fall tomorrow, and you shall soon be undisputed master of Heaven and Earth. I can only pray that we do not meet the same fate as befell your brother Lucifer.

Your most obedient servant,
Joanne de Arc.

P.S. Can’t wait to see you tonight.


Rimidi was good enought to point out that Terziel has in him shades of Achmed the dead terrorist. However, the biggest influence was Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion", which taught me to verbalize my deep suspicion of God(s).--- Sharad


Pallabi said...

it's brilliant sharad!

Monidipa said...

i love the postscript in the end, love it to absolute bits, the very slight hint of romance. i love the god franchise. this story is just very cool!

Elendil said...

This was absolutely fucking fantastic. Best stuff I've read in a long long time. I had written a really really long in depth appreciation of it, but as fate would have it, it got zapped. Let me just say you are a natural born story teller. I was hooked from the first line.

Sharad said...

thanks, all. to elendil, all i can say is i hope i can keep this sort of thing up!

De Wolf said... can turn a story teller anyday....i bet its a postmodern world and Thakurdar Jhuli will be favourite by th time we are grandparents...u seriously have got an attractive jhuli...
keep it up...

RBC said...

Very cool rendition of a tricky and perhaps rather overworked idea. The thing about Heaven and Hell is everyone knows what the deal is. Its hard to breathe fresh life into the old God/Satan conflict narrative that everyone wants to do, but you've pulled it off effortlessly.